It’s one of the best things that's ever happened to me

It’s one of the best things that's ever happened to me
Allegra Wiesenfeld speaks as student loan borrowers and advocates gather for the People's Rally To Cancel Student Debt During The Supreme Court Hearings On Student Debt Relief on February 28, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

I posted a new excerpt from my book A Creature Wanting Form today. Paying subscribers can read it here:

Playing dead

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The Supreme Court heard arguments this week concerning the president’s student loan forgiveness plan. While it’s nowhere near broad enough the plan would nonetheless provide up to $20,000 in relief to borrowers who meet certain income and loan conditions and thus improve millions of people’s lives. That’s a good thing. Not good enough but here we are nonetheless.

It’s unlikely we’ll hear their decision for a few more months and while some are slightly more optimistic today than they were going in (although not ol’ Joe himself) I’m certainly not going to put my faith in this court doing anything but turning up the suffering dial every chance they get. We’ve reached our decision and our decision is fuck you.

Considering the matter is back in the news I shared one of the many pieces I’ve written on the abject and cruel way we handle student loans in this country again the other day.

As usually happens when I share one of these stories I heard from more people this week who’ve been drowning in this type of debt despite doing their best to swim.

“I took out $60k total,” one person told me. “I've paid back about $65k. I still owe nearly $50k.”

That’s not unlike my situation. I’ve said this in here a few times before but I’ve been paying between $3-500 a month for well over twenty years now on what was roughly $60-70k in loans. I have no idea how much I’ve paid over that period – there’s no way to figure that out through Navient as far as I can tell – and I don’t think I even want to know it would make me sick.

Some rough math:

$400 x 12 months x 23 years = $110,400.

My current balance is still $13,766.84.

Also like any time you talk about student loans online I heard again from people who survey the state of things as they are and say "Hm... this is good to me. I'm glad you are eating shit."

"What you don’t know what interest is?" they say. Or "Why should I pay for your useless education?" "I paid mine off easily, back when college was $15 a year by the way," they say. "I got my ass caught in the toilet and I live here now." The usual stuff.

I know a lot of times these types of people are just performing owning the libs online but I often wonder if this is the world they really want? Where nothing can ever get better for anyone else in any way if it doesn’t directly affect them too? Or even if it does!? Are they happy living in that world? Do they really delight in watching others struggle?

I’m not naive I know the answer but something in me still makes me not want to believe it.

This isn't exclusively right wingers by the way. There's a bipartisan reactionary element on this issue.

Real quick reminder:

...wanting the government to help people is free. You don't have to preemptively circumscribe your demands to appease the reasonableness referee in your mind or to placate a hypothetical political opponent. You are just some guy you can ask for whatever.

I am just some guy as well so here is what I am asking: If we can't do anything about the practice of borrowers taking on massive student loan debt itself perhaps we could at the very fucking least start with the usurious punishing interest that makes it impossible for so many to live?

Wanting the government to help people is free

For what it’s worth I am not going to be eligible for any sort of forgiveness under Biden’s plan. That's something I found out the hard way when they yanked FFELP loans like mine out of the deal at the last minute:

The bait and switch makes it something else

Nor was my debt ever paused over the past few years like it was for many others. Biden extended that pause on payments into this year and it will expire not long after the matter with the court is resolved.

Still the fact that federal student loan payments have been put on hold for almost three years now has been a huge boon for millions of people. This is good! Not having to keep up with ballooning compounding interest alone has made so many able to make a dent into what they owe for the first time in their lives.

"It’s one of the best things that's ever happened to me," one person told me recently.

"It was life changing to be honest," said another.

Others said it enabled them to do things they’d been putting off forever like saving up enough for a down payment on a home or having a child which are two things leaders of either political party ostensibly want to make easier for us all right?


I wanted to know what kind of relief people have felt since they've had their loans paused. To show what undoing this corrupt system of debt that enriches a few and keeps so many of the rest of us down can do.

Here's some of what people said:

  • I've been able to take care of medical issues I hadn't been able to afford prior to the pause and start long-term savings plans.
  • Not having that extra expense allowed me to actually live in the community I was teaching in, and then also to be able to leave my teaching job and find a better one. No way I could have found my current, happier, more fulfilling gig if I had $400 or whatever worth of loans to pay. I’m a 2020 graduate with a now-irrelevant grad degree.
  • We saved enough money that my wife was able to stay home an extra couple months with our new baby.
  • It saved me when I was furloughed in the early pandemic and temporarily lost a significant amount of pay. Since then I’ve also been able to buy a house and actually build a savings for emergencies, so it’s been life changing! I'm a first generation college grad in my family. I grew up poor in rural northern CA town that people tend not to get out of, especially those in my Native American community. There's no way I would have been able to attend college without taking out loans. Those loans have been a huge burden for me, though, as they are for most people. Obviously, having that burden lifted during my furlough was really helpful, because I had to make do with so much less, but it was really eye opening once I was able to get back to work full time. Without the weight of the loans I was able to do all the normal stuff that boomers take for granted like buy a house, save for a rainy day, etc.
  • I don't have to pay what feels like a tithe for being alive because the interest is so high the principal never actually decreases.
  • We were in the fortunate position of being able to keep paying while the interest was frozen. I got mine down to a manageable size and whittled it down to where we could pay it off early. It was life changing to be honest.
  • I was able to pay down the principal so much thanks to the interest pause. I'd already paid the original $50k I borrowed but still owed $55k. Now I'm going to save tons in interest payments and we might possibly be able to afford having a kid sometime this decade.
  • It’s basically the reason we’ve been able to throw our kids birthday parties.
  • The pause helped me save enough to buy a house. I haven’t paid a loan payment in two years and my finances are better than ever.
  • I graduated from a state college in 2013 and started paying it off, but never really enough to make too much of a dent. I had an income-based repayment plan because I wasn’t making too much money, so the payments weren’t horrible, but on top of Boston rent and other bills, I had more or less forfeited the old American “middle class” dream of home ownership.
  • In 2019 I got a better paying job in a union industry and started paying the loans down a bit more. Then covid happened and I got a whole bunch of covid unemployment, and the student loan pause allowed me to actually hang onto some of it, especially after I returned to working. Now my fiancé and I closed on a house this January. If the student loan debt forgiveness is upheld, I’m slated to get $20k forgiven. I will still owe around $15k but that feels a lot more manageable.  
  • It saved my butt. My wife had to close her business the first year of covid and not having to pay that bill meant we didn't have to charge necessities like food or gas. We lost around 50% of our income, that small payment really helped.
  • I bought a house, paid off a car, and improved my credit like a million points. It’s one of the best things that's ever happened to me.
  • I was able to pay rent in the Bay Area as a single person. I will probably have to move when they kick back in.
  • I got to leave a job I hated and start a new career. I spent eleven years working at a non-profit, only to have the PSLF rug pulled out from under me. The pause, and now the PSLF waiver, probably saved me $55k, which meant I could buy a house and no longer lose even more money paying a landlord.
  • The student loan pause allowed me to put money towards my emergency savings, which I later used for hospital and medical bills related to the diagnosis and treatment of covid-caused perimyocarditis. And, on top of that, I had enough left over to put a down payment on a car.
  • The student loan pause has saved me about $100,000 in interest on my loans. It has allowed me to put a significant amount of money aside to deal with those loans when the time comes, though I am hoping there is additional relief. My financial advisor seems hopeful that certain programs will continue to pause the interest accrued on loans as long as you make regular payments. That would be huge for people like me who have massive debts ($500,000) accruing massive interest.

    It's such an abstract thing, having that much debt. It's hard to process. Like a mortgage is a lot, really just a number on paper, but at the end of the day you have that number in the value of a house that you could sell. The loan interest isn't like that. I gotta sell myself to pay little dividends on that, and it's nearly double my mortgage. The pause has really just helped me live a normal life, but at some point I am going to have a reckoning with that number, and if shit doesn't go well in the court, that reckoning will be a lot of my income.
  • We could finally afford to have a kid, so we had one! If payments get turned back on I’ll probably have to give them back or not buy them clothes or something.
  • We were able to buy a house. There’s not much more I could say, it would have been permanently out of reach for us otherwise.
  • I’m a PhD with $300k in student debt, so my monthly payments would be a mortgage for most people. I have a decent job, but before covid I was spending $1k a month on minimum payments (just interest), so my wife and I delayed having a kid for about five years. But once the covid pause started we were able to save some money and decided to go for it. If payments resume I’m just going to default or go into forbearance cause that shit is ridiculous. I mean our childcare is $30k a year now! So, we’ll never own a home, but at least I have a job and a beautiful daughter and the government can get fucked.  
  • I defended my dissertation right when the pause went into effect and it's saved my family around $600 a month. I only got a full time job last summer, so this helped a ton. We have two small kids. We’ve paid down credit card debt, did a roof repair, and other emergency house maintenance.
  • I was working a shitty job and had a shitty expensive apartment. My husband’s job was even shittier. The pause enabled me to get a way better job to support us if he needed to leave abruptly, and we got to move into a somewhat less shitty apartment.
  • I had a kid since the pause started, and also got saddled with a long commute. What I would've been sending to Navient every month went to real shit like formula and gas, things that actually apply to actively living
  • I was this close to buying a house until, at the same time, mortgage rates skyrocketed and I had to spend a big chunk of my down payment savings on dental work (another Hell World fave). But god damn it really felt like I was a real competent person for a minute there.
  • We bought a house and was able to have a kid relatively comfortably. I have gargantuan law school loans, but am fortunate that my school pays them for me because I do public interest work, so the pause didn't really affect that. My wife’s grad school loans were like $300 a month so we were able to save that. We bought a small ranch house and had a kid in 2021. We’re both mid/late 30s. I doubt we would have bought the house without the pause, and definitely wouldn’t have felt comfortable having a child. Paying the extra $300 again is gonna suck because childcare is basically a second mortgage.
  • I have only been able to save up enough money to pay off most of my student loans because they've been paused. I would have been completely fucked otherwise.
  • I was also able to buy a house, pay off the credit card debt I racked up in college, and worry way less about my financial well-being.
  • I was literally able to save enough money for a down payment on a house. Granted, I’m pretty sure the house is haunted, but still,  it’s a haunted house with a mortgage lower than the rent I was previously paying.
  • I have like 15% more money. It's rad. I wish it was forever. I'm sitting on weight in pell grants. I need this.
  • We were able to take on two smallish projects on our house (which had been built in 1939) without going into additional debt. That money went to local contractors and workers, which improved the quality of life in our home’s value when we sold and moved to a better space for our one year old. And since these projects happened during the pandemic, local businesses could keep going and keep their employees on, I'd like to think. But no, totally better to have my money going to Aidvantage asap.
  • The pause has allowed me to pay down my principal like $35k because I'm not accruing interest this entire time. I still have $50k+ to go, but at least it's a lot less. Also, it's nice to be able to skip $1k a month payments if we have unexpected house expenses (like our fridge just broke).
  • Friends and loved ones were able to use that money to pay for necessities, most of which increased in price during that period. I was really lucky to pay mine off in full a few years after graduating thanks to work going well, but others shouldn’t be saddled with that too.
  • I have been able to invest in new equipment and expand my freelance work.
  • The payment pause actually hit three or so months after I ran out of deferment options. I barely managed one payment but did not make the other two, and was beginning to freak out about another destructive cycle of missed debt payments. Between all the death and having it myself I don't remember very much from the first few months of covid, but I do remember my first sense of relief during the pandemic was hearing about the pause, even though by that point I wasn't thinking about my debts that much. Of course at that point I wasn't going out anymore, so I didn't need the money as much as I did in the before time. But since we were doing everything delivery, I felt especially obliged to tip well for the people going out into the unknown. Essentially the money that the feds would have clawed out of me instead went to gig workers who probably got tipped dogshit most of the time, even when everyone was all about hero this, hero that. I don't really consider any of it a good situation but I hope the money helped those folks.
  • My husband and I are both attorneys and have close to half a million in student loan debt because of law school, so we’re at the extreme end of it all. Our combined payments per month pre-pause were about $2000. Once the pause hit I paid off my bar loan (the money we’re just expected to borrow for the entire summer we have to study for the exam) because it was going to be one of those “took out $9k, paid $30k” situations. As it was I think I paid out close to $15k on it. Then we just took our usual federal payments and saved and saved and saved. Put aside $20k in less than a year and bought a house in western Orange County in NY.

    We’re also PSLF candidates, and both of us should already have our loans forgiven (he hit 10 years last May, I did in October) but Mohela is a nightmare and we’re not confident they’ll process anything before the pause lifts this summer. We are obviously very lucky compared to a lot of folks but if we have to go back to $2k+ every month it’s going to hurt.
  • [I have roughly $90k in loans.] I was paying to meet the lowest available monthly threshold so I could afford to like pay rent and drink beer, but then I had a panic attack one day when I realized I wasn't going to pay off all my debt at that rate until I was like 55, so I said hey what the fuck why don't I up my payments to oh I don't know, about $1000 a month! I can totally afford Somerville rent paying that much on a mid-five-figure salary, right?

    Then covid hit and suddenly my monthly expenses plummeted. I was able to keep making $1k payments and just chip away at that principal. My now-fiance and I bought a house about a year into covid (in Providence, definitely can't afford Boston prices) and I've continued to make payments when possible. Sometimes the house expenses catch up to you –  we've had to redo our floors, bathroom, and a bunch of appliances have shit the bed – but for the most part I've been able to keep paying and it's reduced my remaining debt to about $53k as of last month. I'm on track to be free by 2027 if I keep it up. Now we need to find a goddamn appliance that won't break every 2 months to keep my costs down!

More on student loans from Hell World:

What I didn’t understand was how much it would cost to live
With a college degree I thought you made enough to get by
Sink or swim it’s your choice!
Guarding the dumpsters from the starving
They reached out to Navient and were told lies by Navient
Number one, yes, the motivation is greed
They illegally cheated many struggling borrowers out of their rights to lower repayments
Make them relinquish the ball
I’m trying to finally pay off some of the interest on a debt
Every single day is an audition for post-Iowa